The alarm blared in Johnny’s ear, waking him from a deep sleep. He hated his job, working for his dad, but what the hell. Money was money, and he was making more than most kids his age. Well, to be honest, at 18, he was one of the few kids his age making any money. He was his dad’s gopher. Which meant his dad would yell “Hey Johnny, go for this,” or “Hey Johnny, go for that.” His dad owned a small construction company building new houses. Business was pretty good, a lot of people seemed to be moving from the city to live out by the lake.
Johnny rolled out of bed, groaning as he stretched. The smell of hot coffee and waffles hit his nose making his stomach growl. He threw on his jeans and an old T-shirt and wandered out to the kitchen, where his mom was cooking up some breakfast. Just as Johnny sat down to eat, he saw his dad loading the tools up in the back of the truck. His bad mood got even worse as he realized he was probably going to be doing something he hated, and on top of it, it was raining.
The weatherman on the radio droned on, talking about 70% chance of rain for today. “When was the last time that idiot looked out the window,” said Johnny. “It’s raining right now.”
His mom only smiled and asked Johnny “Maple or regular syrup?” He took the maple and drowned his waffles. Sure enough, 2 bites in, the horn of the truck blew signaling time to go.
“Dammit! Can’t even eat breakfast!” He threw his fork down on the plate and stomped out, barely hearing his mom tell him that she loved him. “Damn, Dad, keep your pants on! I was eating breakfast!”
Mr. Harper only said in reply “Well then I guess you should’ve gotten your ass up sooner then, huh? Instead of being a lazy ass and sleeping your morning away. LET’S GO!!!!” Johnny groaned. He knew exactly what was coming. His dad’s classic lecture about getting his chores done, blah blah blah. It started off with “I didn’t exactly get a good breakfast either, thanks to your lazy butt. Just toast and butter. And why is that? Because you were in dreamland instead of harvesting the goddamn eggs!” After that, Johnny tuned him out and daydreamed about his future.
In his dream future, Johnny was a stockbroker, making fortunes on Wall Street, and driving a sleek white Mustang Fastback with black racing stripes. He would live in a huge penthouse apartment in Manhattan. Fast cars, fancy clothes, of course lots of beautiful women, and best of all, no dad, with his constant nagging. And then, just like everything else good in his life, the dream faded like a cloud disappearing on a sunny day.
The heartbeat sound of the tires going over 2 Mile Bridge lulled him to sleep which unfortunately only fed the fires of his dad’s anger. “And let’s not get started on that little slut you’re dating!” Screamed Mr. Harper.
“You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about! She’s not a slut, Dad! We haven’t done anything! Why are you such an asshole?” Johnny yelled. Johnny’s face was bright red from anger and his heart was beating a mile a minute. He was so infuriated that his hands were shaking with the urge to punch his father.
The two men pulled up to a monstrous 4 bedroom lake house. This was going to be the biggest project they’d done. 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a 3 car garage and an outdoor kitchen a chef would like to cook in. But Johnny wasn’t seeing any of that, and didn’t care. He was tired of his dad’s nagging, of never feeling like he was good enough, and tired of everything about his life in general. He slammed the door of the 1970 Chevy pick-up hard enough to shake the window. He was supposed to get the truck once his dad bought a new one in a couple years, but he guessed he was about to blow that one. He turned around, walked up to face his dad. He didn’t scream or yell, but said, in a quiet tone, “You know what Dad, I quit.”
C ounty Road 988, Fairman, Texas. It’s the second trailer past the mail boxes on the left once you get off State Highway (SH) 35, where there is a metal gate and a long, gravel driveway. One thousand acres of sun and shade, and a singlewide that made it home for the Harpers. The landscape was carved by two quarter horses’ named “Dallas” and “Red” that directed seven hundred head of cattle to graze the hilled landscape. Two ponds filled with catfish, smallmouth bass, and copperheads offered the animals a place to drink.
The weather was typical for Texas during the summer. Humid, with the temperature getting close to 100 degrees. The kind of heat that has you sweating buckets within minutes. There were days when there was not a single cloud in the sky, and the sun that was beating down seemed twice its normal size and ten times as bright. You had to squint just to see five feet in front of you. Even in the shade, your lemonade got warm. And then that same afternoon, there could be a thunderstorm that was so loud, and so close that you’d swear it could almost register on the Richter scale. On more than one occasion, there were tornado warnings on the radio on a perfect spring day. It could easily go from perfect to a cold, drenching rain followed by the screaming wind of a tornado in a matter of minutes.
I could go on and on about the weather, but as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’ll change. It would be better to talk about the daily routine, so you understand what Johnny’s life was like, and how this story really got started. Life back then was no bowl full of cherries, especially for Johnny. He was up at 5:45 every morning, even in the summer when other kids got to sleep in until noon. He threw on a t-shirt and a pair of old jeans, or just a pair of overalls, and his boots. Most of his jeans had holes, and his boots had been re-soled too many times to count.
Johnny’s first chore of the day was feeding the horses, and when he was done with that, he had to feed the chickens and gather the morning’s eggs. There were cattle too; about seven hundred head, but they fed themselves. If Johnny slept late, he could count on his dad ripping him a new ass because there were no eggs for breakfast. There was always a lot of work to be done, and his dad didn’t like to sit around and waste time. He worked from dawn till way past dusk and fully expected everyone around him to do the same. But Johnny was a typical kid that just wanted to have a little fun once in a while, which made the two butt heads. What made it worse was that both were stubborn as mountain goats.
Once breakfast was eaten, when time allowed for breakfast, Johnny and his dad saddled up Dallas and Red. The day’s next chore was checking on the cattle. They raised their cattle for meat and therefore had to make sure the cattle were healthy and well-fed. One sick cattle sent to slaughter and the whole herd was considered suspect and the money you could make drastically dropped.
Johnny’s sister Libby was the help to his mom, and at 17, chores were not her top priority. His mom would try to punish her as his dad asked her to, but Libby wouldn’t listen. Libby was a rebel, not in the southern style, but instead she wore hippy clothes, smoked pot, and drank on the weekends.
“Because you were asked to, that’s why.” That was a very common statement in their household. Patty tried to teach Libby about family, about responsibility, and about the sacrifices a woman needed to make for her family. Patty knew that someone had to get the eggs, for example, and that if it wasn’t Johnny, then someone else had to do it. But all Libby cared about was having fun. If her mom asked her to do the laundry, Libby would mutter the words “fuck you” under her breath as she did it. Mom was no slacker, she heard it all. But Patty knew that if dad were to hear that her ass would be grounded. So mom kept it all a secret. Time after time Patty kept her mouth shut about Libby and her attitude. It wore on her, being the peacekeeper of the family. She felt like she was being pulled in a million different directions. But she couldn’t say anything because as soon as she did the family would fall apart. It was on the verge of it anyway. And Johnny wasn’t any better. He was always mad at his dad because he felt like his dad never left him alone. Neither of the kids understood that their mom and dad were just doing their best to be good parents.
It was hard for Marty and Patty. Marty had the ranch to take care of, but also the construction business, and to keep it all going he desperately needed his son’s help. But for Johnny’s part, he was just a kid, who just wanted to live his own life, the way he wanted and not the way his dad wanted. And they were just alike, so when they butted heads, which was damn near daily, it could get ugly. No kid wants to be told how to live their life, and no parent wants to find out that their kid wants nothing to do with their vision of their child’s future. On Libby’s side, she was a young girl trying to be accepted, and in her mind that meant drinking and smoking pot. But that life and the people that come with it also create a lot of anger and resentment, and Libby had both of those. And Patty was on the receiving end of all of it. Patty had to listen to the loud Rock music Libby insisted on playing, and her mouth when Libby wasn’t in the mood to do something. And she also had to listen to Johnny and his dad yell and cuss each other because Marty would push Johnny too hard, and because Johnny wanted nothing to do with the kind of life they lived. She bottled it all up inside, because for the sake of the family, she had to. But there were times when Libby had The Doors playing on her record player while Johnny and his dad screamed at each other. Standing in the kitchen washing the dishes in the sink, Patty had all that turmoil around her and no one to talk to. Her escape was her own music, but it wasn’t The Doors or any of those Rock bands, she preferred Conway Twitty, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton.
She loved country music. It spoke to her of heartache, dreams lost, and yet it also spoke of how love endured. Sometimes she’d write songs in her head while she cleaned the house. Most often it was something along the lines of how much she loved that stubborn old mule, and how much she wished that he’d stop and see it. Patty was sure that if Libby were to write a song of her life it would be along the lines of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’,
In a fancy dining car,
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee,
And smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’,
I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a-movin’,
And that’s what tortures me.
Well, if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine,
I bet I’d move out over a little,
Farther down the line,
Far from Folsom Prison,
That’s where I want to stay,
And I’d let that lonesome whistle,
Blow my Blues away.”
The way Patty figured it, both Johnny and Libby had the same problem. They both felt boxed in to a life they didn’t want, and didn’t see any way out. It was just the way they dealt with it that was different. Libby rebelled by drinking and smoking, while Johnny held onto all the anger and resentment until it boiled over and caused a fight. But to Patty, the end result was the same. A family falling to pieces, with Patty losing many a nights sleep, while Marty slept on in peaceful ignorance. Patty loved her husband with all her heart, but he was blind to what his children wanted. All he could see was his own vision of the future.
Patty had plenty of time to think during the day. Libby left the house soon after breakfast, leaving Patty by herself to do the housework. Marty and Johnny’s constant bickering grated on her nerves. She hated it, the yelling and cussing at each other. But what could she do about it? Anything she did would only make things worse. So instead of trying to fix things, she just dealt with it and never said anything. This was no different than any other day. And like any other day, Patty kept her mouth shut, and cleaned the house.
Patty grew up in a normal middle class home. Normal parents, normal life. She met her husband Marty in High School, her junior year. It wasn’t love at first site, but he kept asking her out, and she finally agreed. They had been together ever since. Their romance wasn’t without it’s problems. Marty had to work on his family’s ranch, and his parents didn’t want him dating. And they didn’t like her much, either.
Patty, to this day, had never figured out why. But there were other problems too. Marty would sometimes be too friendly with other girls. Take the night of their senior prom. As usual someone had managed to sneak in some alcohol and had spiked the punch. Which Marty had drunk plenty of. After Marty and Patty had been there for a while, Patty went to the bathroom. She had only been gone for a few minutes, and by the time she had come out, Marty was already chatting up one of the cheerleaders. And she didn’t appear to be exactly discouraging the idea either. Considering the apparent seriousness of the conversation, Patty just stood and watched for a few seconds. Patty walked up when the two decided to get a little cozier than she liked. As she walked up, Marty finally saw Patty and jumped back, tried to explain that they were just talking but it was so loud in there. She wasn’t buying it. All she did was look between the two of them, and turned and walked out. She was in tears before she even got to the door.
There were other times too, but Marty always apologized and begged her forgiveness. And he would always be a perfect boyfriend for a while. And she always took him back.